30 Jan 2011

Govt blamed for deaths due to air pollution

7:58 am on 30 January 2011

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation says "hundreds" of people will die prematurely because of a decision by the Government to postpone tougher air pollution targets.

Environment Minister Nick Smith announced on Saturday that smoggy regions which were unlikely to clean up before a deadline of 2013, now have until 2020 to comply with the standard.

Areas with moderate pollution have until 2016.

Dr Smith said the health benefits will be only slightly reduced by the delay, while the economic costs will be significantly lower.

But Asthma and Respiratory Foundation medical director Bob Hancox, says various estimates put the number of deaths from air pollution each year in New Zealand at between 800 - 1100.

He says there's a rise in the number of hospital admissions and deaths from bronchitis and heart disease every time air pollution goes up.

Dr Hancox says more people die from air pollution than from breast or prostate cancers.

Asthma New Zealand says independent economic analysis shows asthma costs the country $1 billion per year in lost productivity and health costs.

Regional views

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says the Government's approach does not pay enough attention to regional differences.

Jan Wright says a lot depends on climate conditions and councils should be judged each year on how much progress they make.

However, Otago Regional Council says the previous compliance timetable, which was set in 2004, was too aggressive.

Chief executive Graeme Martin says that while there are health problems associated with dirty air, people also have to stay warm.